‘No man left behind’ is the mantra of all U.S. military. No child left behind is a U.S. education moniker and was used as a name for a Bush education law. Otto Warmbier can fit into both categories as both a man and a student — yet our country arguably left him behind.
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”
This powerful quote from Thomas Jefferson relays our founders belief that the chief role of government should be to serve and to protect.
Many patrol cars in various states have a version of this mission statement emblazoned on their bumpers. Our politicians swear an oath to uphold and protect the values of the Constitution.
As American citizens, we delegate this power of security and protection to our governments both local and federal.
We trust that our government will defend our rights when they are threatened both at home and abroad.
Considering these facts, the story of Otto Warmbier’s imprisonment, alleged torture and ultimate death upon his return to the United States is particularly disturbing.
The U.S. government seems no longer capable or perhaps simply unwilling to protect its citizens at home and abroad.
This should worry every citizen. Are we willing to let ourselves be governed by politicians who spout platitudes about acting in the public interest but will not act when faced with a real crisis?
What happened to Warmbier is startling and grotesque.
The Otto Warmbier story has many nuanced facets in an intricate storyline of political embarrassment for the United States.
In January of 2016, Warmbier visited North Korea via a Chinese tourism company called Young Pioneer Tours.
On March 1st the North Korean government released a video purporting to show Warmbier admitting to tearing down a political poster in a hotel he had been staying at.
By March 17, Warmbier is convicted of trying to subvert the North Korean government and is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
While some of the events of Warmbier’s case may be disputed, what is clear is that he was denied two integral rights granted to him by the Constitution: a jury of his peers and the protection of the United States government.
While the process for prosecuting crimes committed by American citizens abroad is delicate, this case should have been a top priority for the State Department. It appears it was not.
In an April 2017 interview with FOX news’ Tucker Carlson, Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, slammed the State Department saying that American and foreign diplomats have, “absolutely not” helped in any way to free his son.
When asked if the former Secretary of State, John Kerry, had tried to help or in any way taken an interest in freeing his son directly, Warmbier flatly told Carlson, “No, absolutely not.” This was more than 400 days after Warmbier’s imprisonment.
Now Warmbier is dead, only after being returned to the United States. What North Korea did was nothing short of a body dump.
What Can Americans Expect of Our Government?
Although the U.S. maintains no diplomatic ties with North Korea, the life of every American citizen is precious and endowed with the rights set forth in the Constitution.
Swedish diplomats, State Department surrogates, numerous times were denied access to seeing Warmbier.
Some have come forth and said that Warmbier got what he deserved. Others, that he should know better than to travel to certain parts of the world. This is how we should react?
Should we should limit ourselves rather than trust that our elected officials, sworn to protect our rights, will fight for us when necessary? That is a chilling reality.
Otto’s story sadly ends in tragedy.
In June, Otto passed away after the Trump administration was finally able to secure his release through special counsel.
Otto’s crimes have never been tried by a jury of his peers and the suspect nature of his imprisonment coupled with the known human rights abuses of the North Korean government paint a picture, not of a frat boy who got what was coming to him, but of an American left behind to die on the battlefield of great power politics.
The world is at a crossroads. Western governments fail to protect their citizens or act against those who do, daily.
Whether it is in Flint, Michigan, where hundreds of people were poisoned due to misguided local government policies or the inaction of European governments to stem the tide of radical Islamic terror in their nations.
Inevitably, many Americans may simply decide to restrict their travel from parts of the world that just 50 years ago were considered prime tourist destinations. This says more about the failing of government rather than simply employing common sense when traveling.
Obama Administration Left Otto To Die
The continued inaction of the Obama administration over the course of Otto’s story serves as a notice to Americans who believe that government works in their best interest.
It is time for informed citizens to realize that once you step outside your door you may no longer be able to count on Uncle Sam to have your back. Otto certainly couldn’t.
Only two solutions exist which could have potentially prevented the death of Otto Warmbier.
Either Americans choose to refrain from visiting certain countries, doing so at their own peril, or the U.S. government takes a hard-diplomatic approach toward countries who would make political theater out of the life of an American citizen.
Wars have been fought over less and although war may not have been the answer in this situation, numerous political pressures could have been applied to secure Otto’s release. It seems none of these were even attempted.
Under the 8 years of the Obama administration, North Korea has grown in arrogance, testing the limits of their political power.
Otto’s death is certainly not the only death North Korea wishes on the West.
What Will Trump Do?
While it remains to be seen what the Trump administration’s full plan will be for dealing with North Korea, it appears they at least understood the gravity of bringing someone home who was denied a fair trial and was humiliated for sport by the North Korean government.
This much is certain, whatever your views on how much or how little government should be involved in the life of its citizens, we delegate the power of protection so that we can feel safe from criminals both at home and abroad.
If government cannot protect us what is its function in our lives? Is it time for all of us to start hiring bodyguards wherever we go?
The North Korean state is a criminal government enacting human rights abuses on its citizens and now upon a U.S. one.
It bears mentioning that North Korea still holds three other U.S. citizens. What will be their fate?
While it may be hard for us to identify with Warmbier in every way, we share with him the bond of U.S. citizenship.
What is the point of being a U.S. citizen if your rights are not protected by your own government?